Perceptual adaptation in multilingual listeners

** We are looking for participants! **

If you think you might be interested to participate in a paid online study relating to this project some time in the next few months, or would like to know more, please fill out this interest form. (Note: filling this does not commit you to taking part in the study; it is just to identify potential participants. You can decide whether to participate once we contact you with details.)

This is an ongoing project with Dr. Molly Babel at the Speech in Context Lab, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. It is funded through a student research fellowship from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.

A remarkable feature of spoken language is that people easily understand each other even though speech is extremely variable (e.g. due to physiology, dialects, accents, idiosyncrasies). Speech sounds make up a continuous acoustic space, over which languages impose categories. One way of dealing with variability is that when listeners hear an unusual pronunciation, they can adapt to it by adjusting these mental categories (perceptual adaptation/learning).

In this project, we are interested in whether multilingual listeners adapt to speech in a second language (L2), and how this learning affects perception in their first language (L1). Because our population of interest (educated multilingual speakers in India) use English as a language of communication with people having different L1s, they regularly hear a variety of English pronunciations. This means that perceptual adaptation is likely to be a relevant process in this setting.

Current research suggests that this ability depends on daily language experience, and differs across language communities and individuals. Because of the sociolinguistic complexity of English in India, we expect that there are considerable differences in people’s language experience. So another aim of this project is to identify what kinds of language experience are most likely to affect patterns of adaptation.

A more detailed plan can be found here.